Montana State University

MSU experiments to be launched on space shuttle

March 4, 2008 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Barry Pyle, left, explains to Chelsea Crandell the procedure for filling tubes with bacteria, fixative and medium. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- Chelsea Crandell originally thought she might stay in Bozeman for spring break.

Instead, the Montana State University senior from Scobey will fly to Florida March 6 and launch an experiment on the Space Shuttle Endeavour. MSU has three groups of researchers sending experiments on the shuttle, and Crandell is part of the group that lost an experiment five years ago on the Space Shuttle Columbia. The Endeavour is scheduled to launch March 11 from the Kennedy Space Center.

"It's very exciting," Crandell said. "I never really thought I would have a chance to do something like this."

MSU microbiologist Barry Pyle was in Florida in 2003 when the Columbia disintegrated over Texas. He just learned in January that he could refly his experiment. Since then, his team has been reconstructing and modifying their work, assembling hardware and making travel arrangements. They want to see how space affects common bacteria that accompany astronauts into space, Pyle said. His experiment will be conducted on the shuttle and return on the shuttle, a 15-day mission.

The other MSU scientists launching experiments want to know how conditions in space affect materials that could be used in or on spacecrafts. Those groups are led by Dave Klumpar, director of the Space Science and Engineering Laboratory, and chemistry professor Tim Minton. Their experiments will be conducted on the International Space Station as part of a series known as MISSE (Materials International Space Station Experiment).

Klumpar's experiments left MSU in 2007 and Minton's in 2006. The experiments are waiting now for launch inside specially-packed "suitcases" that contain other experiments from around the country. After the suitcases arrive on the space station, astronauts will carry them outside and turn them inside out to expose the experiments to ultraviolet rays, atomic oxygen and other space environmental effects that can erode materials. The astronauts will then bolt down the suitcases and return inside. After several months, the astronauts will retrieve the suitcases and store them in the space station to wait for another shuttle.

Minton, a veteran of several MISSE flights, runs a lab that simulates conditions in space and routinely tests materials that could work in space. He and Klumpar's experiments will fly on MISSE-6. He already knows he will fly materials on MISSE-7.

"We have done the same experiments already in the lab," Minton said. "We are going to find out if the materials behave the same in the space environment as our simulated environment."

Russ Cooper, a 2006 MSU graduate who worked with Minton on the MISSE-6 experiments, said he appreciated the opportunity.

"I was able to learn considerable amounts, make excellent connections in both NASA and Boeing," he wrote in an e-mail from the University of California, Santa Barbara. "After working for Tim, his advice and letters of recommendation were able to get me accepted to a good graduate school in chemistry, where I continue researching chemistry, although I have moved away from space applications."

Klumpar offers undergraduate students a number of research opportunities in the Space Science and Engineering Laboratory, but this will be their first long-term orbit, Klumpar said. As far as he knows, it will also log more miles than any other Montana-built object in space.

For the upcoming shuttle, Klumpar's students designed and built two experiments, each one operating inside metal housings that measure about 4 inches by 4 inches by 2 inches. One housing holds ordinary fishing line and 17 other polymer filaments. The second experiment is a circuit board full of electronics. The goal is to show that ordinary electronic systems are good enough for many space experiments, Klumpar said. The opportunity for those experiments to fly on the shuttle was arranged through the Montana Space Grant Consortium, based at MSU.

"It was a pretty neat experience," said Rich Parker, a 2005 MSU graduate who designed the housing for both experiments and conducted thermal testing.

Now a facilities engineer at MSU, Parker said MISSE allowed him to go through an entire design process, starting with an idea and helping it come to fruition.

No one from Klumpar's or Minton's groups will be in Florida, but Pyle's group will be there to hand over their experiment to flight officials. Members of Pyle's team, in addition to Pyle and Crandell, are doctoral student Crystal Richards, lab manager Susan Broadaway, and Tresa Goins, assistant research professor in microbiology. Research associate Elinor Pulcini is the alternate. The Montana Space Grant Consortium paid travel expenses for Crandell and Richards.

"It's nice that this experiment is finally going to fly," said Pulcini who was in Florida for the first flight. "There has been so much preparation. We went through all the permutations. I hope it does fly."

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or